Readings (Year A):
Reflection: How can we be church in the world?
As I was looking at today’s readings, what came to mind is this question, “Do you know the sheep you are called to minister to and with?” And the scripture passage that stood out to me is from John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd, says the Lord, I know my sheep, and mine know me.”
This reminds of when Pope Francis, spoke to the clergy of the world, telling them the shepherd should have the smell of their sheep. So, when we’re out and about, when we’re doing the work we are called to do, do we know the needs and the smell of our sheep? Do the sheep know our smell as well?
Not that we are above, not that we are below, but when we are among the people, do they know we are people they can come to? It is easy on a chancery level, or on a ministerial level, when doing the work we think God is calling us to, to dictate the needs of the community. But do we really have those necessary conversations, even when they are uncomfortable?
In this whole synodal process, we reached out, and were challenged to reach out, to those on the peripheries, those on the margins, those who may not be coming to church anymore for whatever reasons and have those tough discussions on how we can truly be community.
In this post-pandemic society, what I and my colleagues have seen is this increased level of anxiety, this increased level of stress, this increased level of distrust in institutions—not only from the adults who are engaged in church, but also from many of our youth and young adults who are growing into leaders in society, more so if they are connected to the faith in any way. So how are we, as church, connected with those in the field, being those “field hospitals,” as we have said before, and creating peace in those places?
Family, I want to give honor and recognize my former mentor who passed away a couple of weeks ago: Bishop Fernand Cheri III who was the auxiliary bishop here in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and one of the few African American Catholic bishops in the world. And what I learned from Bishop Cheri’s ministry is that everybody is a child of God; whether we agree with them, whether they are on the same political spectrum as us, whether they talk, act, have the same amount of money in the bank account, live in the same neighborhood. Whatever it is, no matter who they are, we are called to live, and love, their dignity as a person, even if they challenge us.
So how are we, as Church, having the smell of those sheep? Bishop Cheri did. He would go to the highways and byways to connect with those on the margins. He was an advocate for the African American Catholic experience, especially our liturgical worship expressions—whether it was gospel music, whether it our environment, whether it was our preaching and teaching, those unique ways that make us who we are. But what I most admired about him, is that no matter who he was in front of, whether politicians, royalty, or a common person, even students he mentored as a campus minister—he acted as he did, as a servant of God. He brought the love of Jesus to those folks. And he did the same for me, reminding me that he, representing God, is the good shepherd, and the sheep knew his name, and they knew him. He modeled what John 10:14 says.
So, my challenge for each one of us here as we move from this space and place is, how can we be church in a world that needs us? How can we bring the light of Christ in a world challenged by the darkness of the pandemic, economic stress, threats of war? We are called to live and love, and that is when the sheep will know who we represent.